September 30, 2020 \ Geoff Birmingham
Case study: Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM)

As I discussed in a previous post, COVID-19 has not eliminated nonprofits’ interest in video, and several of our clients immediately embraced virtual video production. When the pandemic disrupted our plans for filming with the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM), it was unclear what next steps would be.

Deciding on Messaging

The video was intended to support a capital campaign for the interior restoration of UUUM’s historic meetinghouse, also called First Church Roxbury, which is the oldest wood-framed church in Boston. The original concept for the video was to highlight the importance of the meetinghouse as a center of community, and we planned to film a variety of events to illustrate that – public meetings, concerts, youth tours etc. The pandemic obviously squashed this idea entirely. After the lockdown passed, however, the conversation with UUUM started over, and we contemplated how to proceed.

There were a couple of questions that came up. Most fundamentally, we discussed if we should change our messaging, recognizing that with the pandemic and social upheaval surrounding all of us, supporting the restoration of the meetinghouse might not feel so important to many people. Talking about it further, however, we concluded that the message of community was just as relevant as before, perhaps more so, even if the meetinghouse couldn’t be used as a gathering space anytime in the near future.

What we realized, in fact, was that our previous messaging could be enhanced, based on the current circumstances. The meetinghouse is located in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, one that is largely populated by people of color and that often gets overlooked when it comes to preserving history. With current events accentuating the racial inequities locally and across the country, it seemed even clearer that restoring an historic space intended for community-building in Roxbury was perhaps even more important than before. For these reasons, we were very intentional in speaking to our interviewees about the value of the meetinghouse in relation to history, community and social justice.

Filming Logistics

At the same time we discussed messaging for the video, we explored the logistics for filming. We agreed that we would record all interviews via BlueJeans (a Zoom alternative that records in a higher resolution), but we wondered if this would have any implications for our video. We decided that COVID had forced just about everyone to do things differently, and so it was completely natural to make a video composed entirely of virtual interviews.

Where We Landed

The discussion about the implications of COVID-19 on our filming occurred in the early summer. Now, several months later, that discussion seems inconsequential. At this point, everyone is accustomed to Zoom and virtual video is completely familiar to everyone. In fact, in this moment at least, a video that’s recorded virtually perhaps makes it even more current than something done in-person – it suggests that it was created now amid conditions everyone understands. The little bit of b-roll we got of masked youth in the meetinghouse confirms it that we filmed during the pandemic. Without these elements, the video would feel pre-COVID and maybe even a bit dated.